Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A Child’s Drawing Colored Outside the Lines and Crumpled in A Clear But Failed Attempt to Discard It (In the Category of Be Where You Are.)

I never dreaded aging, knowing, as I do, that it beats the alternative. But Dad died suddenly and unexpectedly five days before my forty-seventh birthday, and just today, a week out from my forty-ninth, I realized that I now link my age increase with his sudden death.

It’s a bummer.

Before Dad died, my birthday, positioned near the last day of winter, always conjured for me hopes of spring. Daffodils were usually out by then, though that is not the case this year. The odd brave forsythia could be spotted (again, not happening this year). As the equinox approached, the angle of the sun bent back onto my deck, and things held an air of potential. I had ideas to write and a conviction that the time spent writing them was time spent well. I easily connected with that life force, that surety that I was alive and living fully, with purpose.

I took it for granted.


For Christmas I received a 365 day calendar, the kind where you tear off a new page each day. I find myself startled at how quickly the thick stack of thin sheets printed in kittens and italicized wise words has diminished. Today’s quote is Longfellow, sappy and contemplative. I like tomorrow’s better: “The darkest hour has only sixty minutes.” (Morris Mandel)

It turns out that I don’t care for daily calendars. The need to turn them regularly eludes me, and I end up peeling away weeks at a time to get caught up. I lose the continuity of wisdom; it feels like skipping chapters in a book, but I toss them unread. I do flip quickly to see the pictures of the kittens, though. Daily calendars produce in me a psychological anxiety similar to an hour glass – the surety of pages dwindling, the passage of time and no means to prevent it, no matter how cute the kitten, no matter how wise the words.

Time and age make fools of us all, I think. It’s a question of when, not if. At some point in each of our lives we reach some unknown milestone, something clicks, and we free fall into a sense of irrelevancy. In the plummet, we grab for handholds, helpful or otherwise. We look into false mirrors to see flattering reflections that have no true substance. We abandon beliefs that anything is possible – foolishly because only quitting makes failure inevitable. We forget carefree days of coloring outside the lines, choosing yellow for the face but red for the tail. Instead, we label it imperfect, rip out the page, wad it tightly, hiding the nonconformity. Throw it away and never worry that someone somewhere in the world might find it, smooth the wrinkles, and hang our effort like art.

1 comment:

  1. I read an article recently about an Ohio State study that concluded parents should not excessively "praise" their children, as it can lead to narcissistic tendencies. Of course, the analyst in me found the conclusion a bit squishy; after all, what is too much? What is considered praise? Did they consider the opposite (too much criticism...or no feedback at all for that matter)?
    How is this relevant to your powerfully written entry, you might ask? I am all too aware of how the passage of time creates this sense of a ticking clock counting down our opportunity to be relevant and contribute meaningful to the world, leaving it a better place than perhaps we found it.
    I cringe as I see it in its advanced form in the crumpling life force of so many in my parents’ generation – winding down and waiting to pass on; ignored by the frenzied masses who forget that, but for the grace of the generation before, they would not be here, much less be equipped, to make their mark on the world.
    Your simple, beautiful act of recognizing the effort as art got me thinking about that study again; how much "praise," or feedback, does it take to engage a child's bright developing mind into the larger pursuits of humanity? As a society, how do we nurture that engagement without unleashing the Hyde that, well, hides behind the Jekyll in every human?
    As important, how do we continue to engage, or re-engage, the jaded intellect whose fear of irrelevancy suppresses the willingness to risk ‘wasted effort’ on the truly unique and novel? It may take a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to hold onto the intellectual gold of its aging members. Societies die without the ability to do both.
    Thanks for making me think!